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Calgary Flames - Off-Season Preview

After checking in with the Canucks and Wild over the last two days, today we'll be looking at the Calgary Flames, a team that already has a tonne of salary committed over the next two seasons.  The Flames have already spent over $53M on this season's roster and only have about $6.5M coming off the books once the season ends.  That wouldn't be a problem if the Flames were a great team.  But they're not.  In fact, they're a team with many key players on the wrong side of thirty that missed the playoffs a year ago and while a trade might normally provide fans with hope, to some degree, it's poor trades that got them into this mess in the first place.  From an outsider's perspective, it looks like a discouraging time to be a Flames' fan.  After the jump, we'll look at what the Flames have done since the deadline - it's not close to the level of activity in Minnesota and Vancouver - as well as their cap situation for 2010-11 and some suggestions on how the team might be able to improve.

What Have the Flames Done Since the Trade Deadline?


Signed F Bryan Cameron to a three-year entry-level contract with an NHL cap hit of $883,333 per year - Cameron finished up his junior career in 2009-10 with 78 points in 62 games.  He was originally drafted by the L.A. Kings in 2007 but when he went unsigned passed through the 2009 draft unselected.  The Flames decided to give the 5'11'' forward an entry-level deal and this is a solid low-risk move for a player who may be able to help with the big club if things break just right.

Signed D Christopher Breen to a three-year entry-level contract with an NHL cap hit of $536,667 per year - Breen is an undrafted free agent who also just finished his last season in junior hockey.  In 53 games with Peterborough, Breen was -21 - the fourth worst +/- on the team - and scored 12 points.  He's also listed at 6'7'' and 224 lbs.  So far he looks like all size and no results.  His 36 penalty minutes also seem to suggest that he lacks the nastiness required for a man of his talent level to play in the NHL.  6'7'' players don't come along too often so I can see why the Flames are giving him a shot but I'd be surprised if he has an NHL career.

Signed F Cam Cunning to a two-way contract for one year at $500,000 per year - Cunning was an eighth round selection by the Flames in 2003 and has been playing for their AHL team for the last four seasons.  Last season Cunning scored 38 points in 69 regular season games, his best offensive season as a professional.  Cunning has never played a game in the NHL and that's not likely to change in 2010-11.


Looking Foward to 2010-11

Those who've read here before know that I like to use the chart below as a cap space guideline.  Because it's based on percentages, we need to set a cap figure for 2010-11 and I'll use 57M, which is a slight increase from last season. Here's the chart:

Top 3 Forwards - 27.5% or 15.675M
Middle 6 Forwards - 20.0% or 11.4M
Top 4 Defenders - 27.5% or 15.675M
Goaltending - 10.0% or 5.7M
Bottom 8 Players - 15.0% or 8.55M

And here it is again with the players the Flames have signed:

Top 3 Forwards - Iginla, Langkow, Bourque - $14,833,333 or 26.0%
Middle 6 Forwards - Stajan, Hagman, Kotalik, Dawes, Moss, Glencross - $12,850,000 or 22.5%
Top 4 Defenders - Bouwmeester, Regehr, Sarich, Giordano - $15,191,667 or 26.7%
Goaltending - Kiprusoff, ??? - $5,833,333 or 10.2%
Bottom 8 Players - Backlund, Pardy, Staios, ???, ???, ???, ???, ??? - $4,670,833 - 8.2%

The Flames have six positions to fill and only about $3.6M to spend which will make a new contract for restricted free agent Ian White a bit challenging.  The Flames added Ales Kotalik and Steve Staios at the deadline and those two contracts really hurt now, as does the older but equally disastrous Cory Sarich pact.  Both Glen Sather and Steve Tambellini found a sucker in Darryl Sutter; it would be helpful for the Flames if Sutter could find a sucker of his own for those three deals.  If Sutter can't move those less than stellar deals and the Flames remain as is, they will likely have poor depth at all positions to go along with a good but not great top nine forwards, top four defense and starting goalie.  Yikes. 

Should those three toxic contracts prove untradeable, there seem to be three possible ways forward.  The first involves burying the three most egregious contracts in the minors and signing some better players.  If the Flames have $12.9M for nine players instead of $3.6M for six, they'll be in much better shape and could add one or two good good players as well as have a bit more money to spend on depth.  The downside is that it will cost the Flames $8.9M in real money and I'm not sure they can afford to eat that much cash.

The second option would see the Flames blow the whole thing to smithereens, likely to go with a slightly younger core group of players between 25 and 29 years old.  This would be Rene Bourque, David Moss, Curtis Glencross, Matt Stajan, Jay Bouwmeester, Mark Giordano and Ian White.  The goal would then be to move the veterans with big contracts for more players between the age of 20 and 29 who are ready to help at the NHL level.  The major difficulties with this are two-fold.  First, most teams aren't willing to part with good players in the prime of their career unless what's going the other way is futures.  Since the Flames are looking to move veterans with salary, the Flames wouldn't have all that many options.  Second, the Flames most attractive veteran assets (Jarome Iginla, Robyn Regehr and Daymond Langkow) all have no-movement clauses in their contracts (as does Miikka Kiprusoff).  The kinds of deals they'd need to make would be something like Jarome Iginla heading to Philadelphia for Jeff Carter and Braydon Coburn or to Ottawa for Jason Spezza.  It would be a huge risk, would require the consent of the players on the move and would result in a completely different team on the other side.

The third option is the boring one where the Flames simply stay the course and try to sign reasonably good depth players toward the end of free agency for something in the range of $0.5M to $0.7M and perhaps run with a twenty-two man roster.  I won't speculate on exactly who they should target because with this option the Flames are really just looking for leftovers but the Flyers did something similar last season by going with Danny Syvret, Oskars Bartulis, Riley Cote, Aaron Asham, Blair Betts and Darroll Powe at the end of the roster, with each one of those guys falling into the salary range mentioned above.  In other words, the Flames would end up being more active in August than July.  This option would put the Flames in about the same position they were in this season: the playoff bubble.

Personally, I'm partial to the first option if it's possible from a budgetary perspective and would be exploring the second option from now until August to see if something worthwhile comes along but in the end I expect the Flames to end up going with the third option.  As such, I actually figure the Flames to be slightly worse than they were last season.  The team is getting older, losing depth and relying on Miikka Kiprusoff's rebound season to continue for all of next season.  If I were predicting the Western Conference standings for 2010-11 today, I'd have the Flames on the outside of the playoffs looking in.

My next detailed look at the Flames will likely be around July 12th or, alternatively, once their plans for Option Two have been put into action.  I'd also like to acknowledge for providing all of the contract information.